A friend recently told me that the first time her heard the classical arabic word for “loose woman” or “harlot” was during the Friday sermon in the mosque when he was 9 years old! What made matters worse was that amongst the women accused of such loose morals was the name of his own mother, a PhD and University employee.
To put it mildly I was shocked and horrified on his behalf. The good news is that he didnt know what the word meant, and he didn’t find out until he went home and asked his father. His father was naturally surprised his son was asking such a question and asked him where he had heard that word. Enter the role of our dear “Imam” in the mosque and my friend’s mother’s part in the story.
what was her crime, that incurred such wrath and public humiliation in the neighborhood mosque? She drove a car. Yes, she was one of the 47 women who got in their cars car in ’91 (during the Gulf war) in Riyadh and took to the streets. As a consequence, not only were they fired from their jobs, publicly denounced and ostracized, they also received death threats and hate calls and were banned from leaving the country for a year.
All because they drove.
Now from what I know, under Shari’a, the “Imam” who had the nerve to publicly name these women and call them “3ahirat” (Harlots, for lack of a better translation) from the pulpit, disrespecting the honor of Muslim women and the honor and holiness of the mosque he was in, should have been held responsible for what he said. That kind of public attack could easily be qualified as “Qathf” and there were enough witnesses to take him to court. But at a time when public opinion was against them and they were made to look like traitors, their only option was to lay low and let the whole incident blow over. Which it did.
Twenty years later, many Saudi women and men are campaigning for women’s right to drive, and the issue is freely discussed in the press after it was a taboo to even voice support for the cause. Now the women are referred to a pioneers, brave heroines who dared risk their freedom and reputations for their rights. Funny how time can change people’s perspective on things.
If you want to read up on the 1991 Female Drivers, here are a few links:
Mentioned as the 1991 “event of the year” in Saudi history: